I am writing in support of the pending referendum. While no one wants to pay more taxes, I believe we would be shortsighted if we did not consider what our elementary schools and middle schools will look like if the referendum does not pass.
Like many Oak Park families, we moved here from Chicago seven years ago for the public schools and for the vibrant, diverse community. We have had three children go through the District 97 schools. I believe that the middle schools will suffer the most if this referendum does not pass. Middle school, as we all know, is a difficult time for our children. It is a time when we need to "hook" them into learning and into a positive community in any way that we can. Among the programs at risk for being cut are the arts and sports. These programs enrich their lives and make them want to come to school. Not all parents in Oak Park can afford to privately provide these experiences for their children.
My own kids were exposed to the arts through BRAVO — orchestra, band, ensemble choir and the theater program. I cannot emphasize enough what a positive effect this program has had on their development as young people. Because of people like Tina Reynolds, artistic director of BRAVO, whose charismatic leadership draws a talent pool around her that is deep and wide — people who want to work with her to make a difference in the lives of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds; because of her, my kids had the chance to learn how to sing, dance and perform. More importantly, they learned how to cooperate, work together and respect each other. They learned how important a commitment is and what it means to work hard. They have experienced the highs of success through these programs, and also learned that they will live through disappointments. They learned what it means to want something really bad and to work for that, what it means to go on a "business trip" to Atlanta and represent your school in the theater fest and have others want to do what your school is doing. They have had the chance to learn from the best and then to lead the younger students. They have benefited from BRAVO's model of students learning from each other, as well as from adults. These are the things we want for all our youth — this is something that is hard to put a price on.
The school district has been working hard to make things right at the middle schools. They have been working to recruit the right teachers and other adults who work with these children. Things are working right now at Brooks. Many children are getting a good education in the classroom that is enriched by the programs outside of the classroom. Yes, some kids will still be able to play sports, take music lessons and participate in theater outside of school. These programs at risk of being cut are more than those isolated experiences. They are experiences that the school provides to educate the whole child. And they are more than just experiences — they are the direct result of the people who lead the efforts now in school — those whose jobs are on the line. It will be all our loss if the programs do not continue to have the positive impact on the hundreds of children that they are now.
I hope you will join me in voting yes for the referendum.